Saturday, 25 October 2008

Army stint - A Richmond ditich - fate - true

This is my first writing since my skating incident - and I reckon maybe the beginning of a new perspective on life - don't want to get to maudlin but it seems to make one (me) look a little more to the past. I have written several little stories - as most of you know - I am not going to bore you with all forty. Just one.


I was pleasantly surprised with the success of finding the article in the Peace Arch News re the overturned boat. So I decided to go into Richmond the other day to see if there was anything in the Richmond Review about the following rather stupid incident I dropped myself into (literally) about forty five years ago.

I wrote the story about eight or nine years ago. I wasn't sure just which year it happened- 1961-62-63 or 64. I couldn't find anything in the first three years (other than in the monthly summary of the fire dept) " three cars in ditch this month - one survivor." Have decided to have one last go next week at 1964.


Nov 2nd 2008 - did go to the library in Richmond again did not find anything for 1964.

However I remember that we had a very large snowfall in March of the year this took place - so I found this on the Internet. I remember the snow very well as I was ordered by the corporal (during my six week stint in the Canadian Army) to go out and shovel off the driveway (due to some small incident) - since I had on my soldier suit and a city snow grader was passing I commandeered it and had the driver clear the driveway and parking lot - took about ten minutes - Corporal was madder at me than before, when I came in and reported mission accomplished.



From - the Canadian trivia weather page

March 1st 1962 An unexpected snowstorm in Vancouver produced 35.6cm snow, a 2 day snowfall record here. Click here to see what the weather's doing there now. 5

As I'm sure you now realize I have become quite determined to see if there was anything reported about my midnight swim in Richmond BC.
I will go back and look at the March issues of The Richmond Review.

Nov. 5th 2008 Beth and I went into the library in Richmond again - could fine nothing
about my ditch thing - just some pictures of the snowfall in 1962.



A RICHMOND DITCH

I had just got off afternoon shift at midnight from the Air Traffic Control Centre on Sea Island in Richmond BC. It was early spring, and the temperature was just above the freezing level. A light drizzle had just begun to fall. As I was about to turn on to the cut- off leading to the freeway, I suddenly got this great idea; I would pick up Chinese food and surprise Beth.

I quickly turned on to number 3 road, and drove down to the Bamboo Grove restaurant, across from the City hall. I had finished ordering and started to drink the free coffee they gave you while you were waiting for the take-out food. Suddenly the door slammed open and a lady screamed that a car had just gone in the ditch at the dead end corner of Granville and Number Three Road.

In most cities in the world, this may not have sounded like such a big deal. Richmond in the 1960s had real ditches. On #3 road they were about 20ft wide, and at least 10ft deep. Not only were they wide and deep, but they were used as an overflow drain from the septic systems In effect, they were part of a weird sewer system.

As we hurried out of the restaurant, I noticed the drizzle had turned to freezing rain. The road was covered with a thin layer of ice, and we could hardly stand up as we ran. For some reason I was wearing my good suit, (I guess it was because it was my first day back as a Controller, after several weeks in the Canadian army). I was getting wet and cold as we arrived at the spot where the lady said the car had gone into the ditch. There were four of five of us and no one could see any sign of a car.
“There’s no car here, you must have been mistaken.” One of the men said.
“Well I could swear I saw a car go in here, but I guess you’re right.” Said the lady. “It was going straight west on Granville, it didn’t appear to turn, it’s tail lights just disappeared.”
The rest went back to the Restaurant, but I stayed for a few minutes to have another look.

Why I went back I really cannot say - fate??

Peering into the black frigid water, I suddenly noticed a faint red glow beneath the surface. I realized the woman was right, and this was the taillight of some unfortunate soul's car. It was then that I heard it; a sort of gurgling followed by a whistling sound, regularly about every six seconds. I definitely thought it was somebody having a terrible time breathing. It was obvious that if somebody was in the car, they wouldn't last long unless we got them out quickly. There was a problem, the sides of the ditch were vertical and slimy mud, getting into the ditch would be easy. Getting out, with, or without, an injured person, would be impossible.

So using my smarts I jumped into the water.

This was during the Diefenbaker Era in 1959/60-62 I believe. I was only about 25 years old, a SCUBA diver, hockey player, and had just finished a stint with the New West Regiment in their civil defense brigade. What I’m trying to say is this; I was in very good shape. The idea of going into the ditch really didn't seem like such a big deal. When I hit the water, I instantly went completely under. I don't know why, but this caught me by surprise. I surfaced and two things hit me simultaneously, number one it was very cold, and number two, there was absolutely nothing to grab on to, or stand on. There I was, treading water, in my best suit, in this pitch-black smelly ditch. It appeared that everyone else had left, in any event I couldn't hear or see anyone from my rather limited perspective. I started to slosh around. Suddenly, I stepped on what I believed to be a wheel of a car. I deduced this since it turned, and I fell off. Using my great intellect, I instantly realized if this was a wheel, the car must be upside down. It then struck me; the strange whistling sound must be someone breathing against the floorboards, at least that was the instant picture in my Mind.

I decided to dive under the water and see if I could find the door. On my first try the shock of the dirty frigid water in my eyes and ears, (yes I remember I kept my eyes open for some unknown reason) affected me so much that I only stayed down a few seconds. On my second try I got much deeper and found the door handle. Unfortunately by the time I found the handle, I was running out of air. After a quick try at opening it my lungs were burning. I just had to take a breath. I started to the surface.
It was then I realized that my coat was caught on something. I couldn't’t surface. Fighting panic, I struggled for a few moments to get loose.

I was not happy.

Suddenly I was free. I popped to the surface just as my lungs were about to burst.

After taking several deep breaths I dived down again, this time, I got right to the door. Bracing my foot I pulled with all my might, the door burst open and the car filled totally with water. At the same instant I felt a person and grabbed him (it was a him) and attempted to pull him into the water with all my strength. I knew there would only be one chance, because I had ruined his small pocket of air when I opened the door. If I didn't get him out now, I would have to surface and come back down. In the mean time he would have taken in water and be unconscious (providing of course I could find him). I was rapidly running out of air and pulling him frantically. He appeared to be stuck behind the steering wheel.

Somehow, to this day I don’t know how, I got him out and managed to get to the surface with this madly struggling man. When we surfaced of course there was nothing to hold on to and this elderly gentleman could not swim. He was crying, praising God and thanking me all at the same time. Unfortunately, it appeared he was also trying to drown the both of us; and he was doing a good job of it.

At about this moment, the Richmond Fire Dept. arrived. They had on life jackets, and were trying to reach us but they couldn't reach far enough into the ditch. I was rapidly going numb from the cold. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold on to the elderly gentleman much longer. Since I was breathing a mixture of about 50% air, and dirty water, I wasn't going to last long either.

They yelled at me to hang on. They were going to get ladders or something. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, but I totally lost my cool and swore at them (between gasps for air) and called them cowards and other appropriate names. They still didn’t get into the water, even in their life jackets. So, I called them a few more nasty names and finally two of them jumped in to the water. They helped us keep afloat until those on the shore somehow dragged us out.

As they were taking the man to the hospital he asked me my name and where I worked; I do not remember if I gave him my name, but for some strange reason I told him I was in The New West Regiment. Since I had just finished a six week stint in the army (which is a story unto itself) the day before. I guess it just popped into my head.

Anyway, I forgot about my Chinese food. I went straight to my car and drove home. I was so cold I could hardly hold onto the steering wheel, and I smelt like the monster from the lost lagoon. When I got in, I went straight to the bathroom, and into a hot shower, wearing all my clothes, including my shoes.

My wife thought I had lost my mind.


Written by Larry W. Bennett

4 comments:

  1. Gosh Dad, this is a most amazing story -- and one for some reason you never told before (at least not that I can recall).

    Very well written too.

    I doubt I would have been brave enough to jump in as you did.

    Love,

    Rick

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  2. Dad,
    there seems to be a theme running through your stories of jumping into cold water. Dont you have a scuba diving story too? Is that in your book of stories?
    Sandra

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  3. Sandra - do you mean the little story about me scuba diving at Cultus lake and watching the little feet walking to toward the sharp dropoff and she walked off the dropoff into my hands (she was completely submerged) as I was there under the water in the deep part. I just grabbed her and turned her around onto the shallow water - I stayed under the water all the time - bet there is a woman somewere that tell this story - that no one believes!!

    dad

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  4. LARRY THAT'S AMAZING!
    I had no idea you'd saved a life, let alone at least two!
    You know, you give me hope that a person can experience and accomplish a lot in, what, seventy odd years?

    ... I actually don't know how old you are ...

    love and thanks for sharing that.

    ReplyDelete